‘King’ Gukesh: Youngest ever Challenger to the World Title

India may Host the World Title Championship later this year

It is King Gukesh who rides all on the international chess board. The youngest ever, to become a challenger, all of 17 years of age, Gukesh has successfully ushered in a new era in the global arena, not just India. If youth is in focus, Gukesh has pronounced it most befittingly. At a time, when Indian sports is coming of age, going beyond just cricket, when we are doing better at numerous international arenas, be it badminton, squash, or athletics, chess was always an Indian passion, just as much. And around a time when Viswanathan Anand was showing signs of going past his ‘prime’, another prodigy has come up. No surprises then, that it was under the watchful guidance of Anand himself, that Gukesh got a trainer in a former Polish Grandmaster.

Mr. Cool, is what describes him best. In his zone, while engaging for a game, he is a picture of all concentration and focus, nothing will distract him. When over and done with, he is back to being his normal human self. From all accounts that have emerged, a very private person, he shows maturity and strength beyond his years.

In his Telugu name, he is referred to by his given name, Gukesh, and not by his surname Dommaraju.

Born 29 May 2006, a chess prodigy, he is the third-youngest Grandmaster in history, the third-youngest to reach a chess rating of 2700, the youngest to reach a rating of 2750 and the youngest winner of the FIDE Candidates tournament.

Gukesh was born into a Telugu family; his parents hail from the Godavari delta region of Andhra Pradesh. His father, Dr Rajinikanth, is an ear, nose and throat surgeon, and his mother, Dr Padma, is a microbiologist. He studies at the Velammal Vidyalaya school, Mel Ayanambakkam, Chennai.

Gukesh won the Under-9 section of the Asian School Chess Championships in 2015, and the World Youth Chess Championships in 2018 in the Under 12 category. He also won five gold medals at the 2018 Asian Youth Chess Championships, in the U-12 individual rapid and blitz, U-12 team rapid and blitz, and the U-12 individual classical formats. He completed the requirements for the title of International Master in March 2017 at the 34th Cappelle-la-Grande Open.

On 15 January 2019, at the age of 12 years, 7 months, and 17 days, Gukesh became the then second-youngest grandmaster in history, only surpassed by Sergey Karjakin with 17 days. Since then, the record was beaten by Abhimanyu Mishra, making Gukesh the third youngest.

In June 2021, he won the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, Gelfand Challenge, scoring 14 out of 19 points.

In August 2022, he began the 44th Chess Olympiad with a perfect score of 8/8, helping India-2 defeat the No. 1 ranked U.S. in the 8th match. He finished with a score of 9 out 11, a 2867 Elo performance, earning the gold medal on the 1st board.

In September 2022, Gukesh reached a rating of over 2700 for the first time, with a rating of 2726. This made him the third youngest player to pass 2700, after Wei Yi and Alireza Firouzja.

In October 2022, Gukesh became the youngest player to beat Magnus Carlsen since the latter became World Champion, in the Aimchess Rapid tournament.

In February 2023, Gukesh participated in the first edition of the WR Masters tournament in Düsseldorf, where he finished on 5½/9, tying for first place with Levon Aronian and Ian Nepomniachtchi. He came second to Aronian in the tiebreaks.

In the August 2023 rating list, Gukesh became the youngest player ever to reach a rating of 2750. Gukesh participated in the Chess World Cup 2023. He reached the quarter-finals before being defeated by Magnus Carlsen.

In the September 2023 rating list, Gukesh officially surpassed Viswanathan Anand as the top-ranked Indian player, marking the first time in 37 years that Anand was not the top-ranked Indian player.

He showed maturity, he was very cool; generally, he looked like someone who was just getting up in the morning to do what he does every single day rather than someone who was making history. And the chess also showed a kind of stability that almost none of the other participants were able to muster. He is a deserved winner.
Gukesh may not even realise it, but he seems to be quite calm. Able to focus effortlessly. You have seen Gukesh come to a game and sit down, close his eyes and just take a second to himself. It is important to have your own routine and this was his. The ability to focus is quite strong and if something goes wrong in a game, he takes it and turns up the next day in a good frame of mind. So, he definitely has some ability to cope. A huge part of a long, high pressure tournament such as the Candidates is having the right mentality; to be able to detach yourself from the result and just play your best chess. Gukesh did this by finding a right mixture of chess and some degree of fitness.
– Vishwanathan Anand in The Hindustan Times Gukesh’s trainer Grzegorz Gajewski, who was previously Viswanathan Anand’s second, described the five-time world champion as the “brilliant” one and Gukesh as the “cool” one. “It’s a huge advantage in chess when you manage to stay cool. This kind of mindset is unique. It’s what we’ve been vying to achieve, and that he manages to find it at such critical moments is really something.”
It’s not a mentality that’s been plucked out of nowhere. Over the years, Gukesh has chased goals he set for himself, faced setbacks, picked himself up, and run the course again. He chased the world’s youngest GM goal-travelling to tournaments, for going school and sleeping in baggage claim areas of airports overnight to save on hotel costs. Between October 2017 and January 2019, he played 276 games. He became India’s youngest GM but missed Sergey Karjakin’s record by 17 days.
– Susan Ninan in The Hindustan Times

In December 2023, with the end of the FIDE Circuit, Gukesh qualified for the 2024 Candidates Tournament. Gukesh had placed second in the Circuit, but Fabiano Caruana, the winner, had already qualified through the World Cup. He became the third youngest player to play in a Candidates tournament, behind Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen.

In January 2024, Gukesh participated in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2024. He scored 8.5 points from 13 games (6 wins, 5 draws and 2 losses) to finish in a 4-way tie for 1st place. In Round 12, he had a winning position against R Praggnanandhaa, but blundered into a threefold repetition. In tiebreaks, he defeated Anish Giri in semifinals but lost to Wei Yi in the finals.

Gukesh and Company; A Nation Playing the Game

What is helping Gukesh and company, the youth brigade, is the eco-system in the country that helps them to aspire, several of them as future world champions. There is the obvious Praggnanandhaa, and his sister Vaishali, both of whom played the Candidates.

Chess has always been a family game for Indians, an easy sport that required limited or no investment, no recurring cost, and ability to help bond families together; with no divide between ages and generations, everybody can sit and play. No wonder, there has been heightened interest levels in the game, especially now that there is so much available online. The ‘other’ player is the online dummy, capable to win any game. Currently, it is estimated that some 35,000 Indians have FIDE rating, which allows them to play in official tournaments regularly. No wonder then, too, that a few thousand fans landed in Toronto to watch the game and cheer the Indian squad.

With so many of the tribe increasing, there is widespread and exponential growth of interest. As many as 85 Indians have made it so far to the GM stage, which is indeed a noteworthy achievement. There is an implosion of talent, which is natural, as more and more Indians take to the game. The basic premise is that Gukesh is not any flash in the pan, he is the product of a nation playing the game.

A growing grid is available for coaching where young minds can get their instincts sharpened. Talent is also getting nursed from home, as parents tend to think ’sport’ and ‘global acclaim’ for their wards. So, the cost of training, as it goes up as we move towards advanced levels, is afforded as it helps achieve ambitions. More city level and national competitions would help, so would the entry of an Indian corporate which can come forward to nurture the game in India.

In April, Gukesh participated in the 2024 Candidates Tournament. ]Gukesh won games against fellow countrymen Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi playing as black, Alireza Firouzja playing as white, and Nijat Abasov playing as both black and white. His only loss was his game with black against Firouzja. This gave him 5 wins, 1 loss and 8 draws, for a score of 9/14, winning the tournament, and qualifying for the 2024 World Championship match against Ding Liren.

He is the youngest ever winner of the Candidates, and will be the youngest player to play in a World Chess Championship match.

Meanwhile, reports suggest that India is bidding to stage the match with Liren, scheduled for sometime in November this year.

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